Guide To Picking The Best Charity To Donate To

This blog post was provided by Ann Rosenfield, MBA, CFRE.

I was working for a charity that helped people experiencing homelessness. The charity was being evaluated for a large donation by a possible donor.

“This charity is spending too much on transportation!” said the donor looking at their finances. “I’m not paying for staff to take taxis everywhere!”

“The staff aren’t taking taxis,” I replied. “That money is giving our clients bus tokens to make sure they can go see the doctor.”

Not surprisingly, that donor changed their mind with this new information.

It is hard to decide which charities deserve your hard-earned money. Before you leap to conclusions about which charities you want to support, here are 3 ideas to help make the right choice for you.

Tip #1: You Be You

Deciding which charity to support is a personal decision. In making this choice, here are some ideas to consider:

  1. Do I prefer to give to a charity with an international, Canadian, or local focus? Think about how you want to see the charity’s impact, either in person or hear about it second-hand.
  2. Do I prefer to give to a small charity, or a large one? Each has its strengths and its challenges.
  3. Do I know someone who volunteers or works in this field I care about to ask about their view? A trusted friend can provide valuable insight.
  4. Do I prefer a charity that serves a lot of people for a short while, or one that works very intensely with a few people for a long time? Related to this, beware of worrying about how much it costs to serve one person. That is where you take the budget of the charity and divide it by the number of people the charity serves. Some charities help many people, but only for a short time so their costs per person will be lower. Others help a few people in a deeper way so their costs per person will be higher. You choose which one feels has the most impact.
  5. Does the leadership of the charity match my values? For example, if I care about women’s rights, does the charity have female leaders and board members?

Tip #2: There’s More Than One Pair of Eyes

It can be hard to make decisions about a charity on your own. Remember that there are other people who care about charities and their work. When choosing a charity to support, it is helpful to look to what important connections that charity has made. There are many groups who have to do their own work to make sure a charity is sound. If there is a charity you are considering giving to, check out if they are receiving money from your local community foundation or your local United Way.

Some charities have chosen voluntary accreditation with organizations such as:

Tip #3: Take a Little Risk

There can be a fine line between brilliant and silly. Often the most successful charities started with an idea that seemed ridiculous. When thinking about what you will give to charity, think about setting aside an amount you feel comfortable with to support something new or unique.  The median amount a Canadian give to charity is $300 a year. So, consider giving 10 percent, or $30, to a charity that has a new approach, or is small, unknown, or is untested in some way.

By doing this, you can rest easy that you’ll be giving most of your money to charities you feel comfortable with, while also giving a new charity a chance. Any charity you support should give you a chance to receive regular updates by email or print mail. Remember, if you tick the box that says “do not add me to your contact list,” the charity will not be able to send you updates.

You should also follow the charities you give to on social media, such as Facebook or Twitter, for additional updates. It is also valuable to attend the charity’s Annual General Meeting where you can have a chance to meet the volunteers and staff from the charity.

By personalizing your charity choices, you will be able to make the best choices for you, and with over 86,000 registered charities in Canada, there’s certainly something for everyone. Also, by giving yourself an idea of what your “new idea that might not work” budget is, you can develop a charity giving plan that is best for you.


About the Author:
Ann Rosenfield, MBA, CFRE is a charity expert and principal for Charitably Speaking. She is also the editor of Hilborn Charity eNews, Canada’s largest weekly charity publication. You can reach her at 

*Disclosure: I am a volunteer with Imagine Canada’s Standards Program.

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